FBI Steps Up Criminal Inquiry Into News Corp.

U.S. authorities are investigating whether employees of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWSA) have been involved in criminal activity akin to that making headlines in Britain since last summer.

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Authorities, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are looking into possible violations of U.S. law banning corrupt payments to foreign officials such as police, but have so far found little to substantiate allegations of phone hacking inside the United States, according to sources.

The FBI is conducting a criminal inquiry into violations by Murdoch employees of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a law intended to curb the bribery of foreign officials by U.S. companies. Should authorities pursue legal action against any Murdoch employees, it would most likely relate to the FCPA, according to one U.S. official.

If found to have violated the FCPA, the New York-based News Corp. could be fined up to $2 million and barred from U.S. government contracts. Individual employees participating in the bribery could face fines of up to $100,000 and a jail sentence of five years. Executives would also be liable if they authorized the bribes or knew about the practice but didn’t stop it.

FCPA cases are often settled out of court, with companies making large cash payments while avoiding any legal admission of guilt.

Much of the evidence being examined by police was voluntarily provided by a special clean-up unit established by News Corp. The company has hired batteries of lawyers in Britain and the United States, some of whom specialize in FCPA cases.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission also have jurisdiction to pursue legal action against alleged violators of the law, though in a civil case.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Knapp at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com